Home Automation Protocols and Technology

Home automation is quickly growing into a sought-out feature that smart home users look for in their equipment. With home automation, you can streamline your home functions, controlling its activity and household features.

Vivint Smart Home

Easy Professional Installation with $0 Activation

Learn more

Overview

In a nutshell, home automation is the automatic centralization control of linked devices in your home. It means you will oversee all connected devices from anywhere in the world using a smartphone, tablet, or computer. You can turn on/off thermostats, lights, electrical outlets, and common household appliances by the touch of a button.

 

The concept of home automationThe concept of home automation

From a home security standpoint, it also includes alarm systems and all its components. You can arm/disarm your security system, review the camera’s feeds, and check entry sensors from your doors and windows at any time. You will manage, and schedule tasks on all the devices hooked up to a remotely controllable network.

With home automation, you could make your life more convenient since the devices can trigger one another. This sequence of events is known as “smart scenes.” For example, you can create a “welcome” scene connecting multiple devices to work in unison every time you come home. The lights on the hall will light up, and the blinds in the kitchen will go up the moment you enter the house.

Smart scenes simplify your daily routines by allowing you to program or use pre-configured settings throughout multiple devices. You won’t have to control them individually using an app or voice assistant.

For instance, you will be able to set a scene that turns on your lights when the smoke detector goes off. You can also set “good night” scenes that will lower your blinds and play soothing sounds from Spotify at a particular time.

Most home security systems come with preset scenes like Home, Away, or Night mode. You can customize them to your particular preferences. For example, you can make a scene when the system is in the Home mode, telling it that you want a motion sensor to turn on a light in a specific room.

But not all smart devices communicate using the same language or “protocol.” This article will discuss the most used protocols used by popular brands and security companies that help their smart products talk with each other.

 

Home automation technology

Home automation works through a network of smart devices connected to the Internet using various communication protocols. The devices can be managed through an app or Voice Assistants like Alexa or Google Assistant through electronic interfaces.

 

Internet of things and home automationInternet of things and home automation

All home automation devices are part of the Internet of Things (IoT) that can be instructed to prompt one another. As IoT conveys to the devices themselves, home automation is what you do with them to make your life more comfortable.

 
IoT is a network of interconnected components that transfer information over the Internet without human intervention.

Most of these smart gadgets connect to the Internet using their control protocol or “common language.” The devices can speak a few different protocols, so let’s explore the most commonly used by smart home users.

 

Wi-Fi

Hands down, Wi-Fi is the most common communication protocol used today. It seems that everywhere you go now, you hear the word Wi-Fi. You could be standing in line at a coffee shop and read a sign that offers free service or a friend asking for your Wi-Fi password.

 

Wi-Fi and home automationWi-Fi and home automation

Some people think that Wi-Fi and Internet are interchangeable synonyms. But that’s not how it works. Wi-Fi is a wireless connection that links up to a router, base station, or other access points. It is commonly used to access the Internet on portable devices like smartphones, tablets, and computers.

This technology also delivers access to a local network of connected devices, such as security systems. Watch live feeds from your Wi-Fi-connected security cameras or lower your thermostat using your smartphone or tablet.

 
Wi-Fi is not an acronym; it doesn’t stand for anything. It is a brand name created by the marketing firm Interbrand.

Many smart products can be connected directly to your home network and easily controlled with an app. No other protocol provides the high bandwidth connection you get with Wi-Fi. That’s why it is so popular with security cameras and other devices that require a higher broadband, or necessary bandwidth.

Wi-Fi uses radio waves to transmit information at precise frequencies, most likely at 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. Each frequency offers several channels that wireless devices can run on, so their signals are not overcrowded or interrupted by other appliances.

Unfortunately, that does happen on busy networks. It can slow your web speed down significantly, especially if you have a basketful of smart devices set up at once. Most routers only allow up to 30 devices to be connected. The bandwidth gets weaker the more you add, so it is best if limited to a single user.

The average range of a standard Wi-Fi network can span over 300 feet in the open areas. Buildings, brick walls, and other blocking objects could hinder the signal, making the grid narrower than the average reach.

It is more common to have a range between 30 to 120 feet, depending on the antenna’s strength and the frequency broadcast. More often than not, higher frequencies have shorter functional spans than the lower frequency ones. But new technology is being developed every day to fix some of the most common issues with Wi-Fi connections.

In 2018, the Wi-Fi Alliance announced the new Wi-Fi 6 to improve connectivity, broadcasting over a 6 GHz band. It is a faster generation of Wi-Fi, supporting more devices, and delivering higher data transfer rates than its predecessors. With a speed capacity of 9.6 Gbps across multiple channels, it will reduce network crowding and dropped signals.

Most wireless routers and access points can support multiple devices connected at once, but, as you may now, it slows down your bandwidth. Soon, the number of connected devices is expected to reach 20 without decreasing the available bandwidth on the same network. But for now, Wi-Fi recommends only eight for optimal performance.

Every Wi-Fi device within the network’s range can automatically detect it and attempt to connect. Indeed, this may raise some safety concerns. But with technology like Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) and Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA2), it makes hacking into the network without a password a lot harder.

You may have noticed your router and home network now come with WPA2. This technology replaced the older and less secure Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP), the standard network protocol that added security to Wi-Fi networks.

WPA2 is now used on all certified Wi-Fi hardware, based on the IEEE 802.11i technology standard for data encryption. When enabled, it will protect the content you transmit between your router and your wireless device. Anyone within the network range might see the traffic but can’t snoop on what you are sending back and forth.

Once you enter your Wi-Fi password on your smart device, the router will acknowledge it and check its memory to see if the password matches. If cleared, you are good to go! You can link your security devices to your smartphone, tablet, or laptop using Wi-Fi connections and applications. This way, you will manage your security system right from the palm of your hand.

While Wi-Fi does not need an additional hub, it does require a router and an Internet service. It can help extend the range of networked devices from your security system. You will be able to manage your entire home automation from anywhere in the world, as long as you have active Internet service.

Although Wi-Fi connections may not offer the most secure encryption compared to closed systems like Z-Wave or Zigbee, it provides a steady and robust connection to your devices. It allows multiple users to connect through the same network with ease of use and convenience that is not present in the wired ones.

 

What devices use Wi-Fi?

Most routers provide Wi-Fi connectivity. Nearly all smart product capabilities rely on them for a steady connection to the Internet. Smartphones, tablets, and laptops now come with this technology embedded in them.

Today, smart TVs have Wi-Fi connectivity as part of their operating system. You can stream TV shows and even check on your security cameras using the TV screen. There is also a myriad of products that connect via Wi-Fi, like smart speakers, game consoles, kitchen appliances, and even cars.

The leading home security companies also use Wi-Fi to communicate with their devices. For example, Nest Secure brings its entire system together using your home’s Wi-Fi network. You will manage Nest products like indoor cameras, which provides a robust connection to the devices.

Other companies like Frontpoint offer dual-path technology, meaning that you have cellular and Wi-Fi connections working side by side. So, if your Internet goes down or you lose cell signal, your system will still be online. Likewise, SimpliSafe allows these simultaneous connections but has minimal integration with other home automation technology.

If you think about the vast selection of smart products and services that use Wi-Fi technology, the applications are infinite (or darn close to it). There are countless IoT gadgets and features out there. Many of them involve small sensors or devices that most security companies use in their equipment packs, taking advantage of its Wi-Fi smooth connectivity.

 

Z-Wave

Z-Wave is another leading home automation technology that allows smart devices to communicate with each other. It won’t interfere with your home’s Wi-Fi signal; Therefore, it won’t affect your Internet speed. They can coexist in the same home security ecosystem.

 

 

Z-Wave is a frequently used protocol in the smart market nowadays. The technology gives users the freedom to add plenty of smart devices without affecting Wi-Fi and internet speed.

Its wireless connectivity uses radio waves to link up smart home devices into a mesh network. Z-Wave’s low-power technology uses 908.42 MHz radio frequencies to “talk” with its smart sensors. It consumes less energy than Wi-Fi and has less interference than its competitor Zigbee.

Without a protocol in play, each of your smart products would work by themselves without communicating with one another. But with smart home protocols like Z-Wave, your devices can speak to each other, allowing for the perfect home automation experience.

For example, you can create smart scenes when you leave for work in the morning. You will be able to program the security system to turn off all your lights when you lock the front door.

Plus, if you want to make sure you closed the garage door, you just pop in the app and check. If you didn’t, you select the app’s option, and the hub will tell the garage door controller to close it.

 
Smart products will often have the Z-Wave logo on the box, so you know if it is compatible or not.

The same way brands like Apple are allowing their technology to be part of non-proprietary products, Z-Wave has its own certification process. The product must pass rigorous requirements to make sure the device can communicate with the Z-Wave network. This way, it is guaranteed that it integrates smoothly and has high-level security features.

The smart devices can be easily managed remotely on your smartphone, tablet, or computer via hub or base station. To connect your Z-Wave devices, you will need a Z-Wave compatible hub, like the one security systems typically use. As long as you have active Internet service, the hub will collect the command and send an instruction to the desired device.

Unlike Wi-Fi, the more Z-Wave devices on the network, the stronger it becomes. Z-Wave’s mesh networking allows a signal to hop through other Z-Wave products, extending each device’s range. It supports up to 4 hops, so the coverage will increase depending on the number of Z-Wave products connected to the network.

For maximum efficiency, it is best to have a Z-Wave device around every 30 feet or closer. It can cover a range of up to 300 feet in the open air. But like most networks, thick walls, buildings, and other blocking materials can reduce its signal. The Z-Wave’s transmission rate is 100 kbps, slightly slower than Zigbee.

If this happens, all you need to do to extend it is add a repeater or another Z-Wave device. The signal can continue to bounce off to its final objective. You can add up to 232 devices on one network, which is more than enough for any home security system. Therefore Z-wave works better in larger homes and buildings than other contenders like Wi-Fi.

 

What devices use Z-Wave?

Over 3,000 IoT devices are now using Z-Wave technology, covering just about every smart home security function you may need. With more devices added by the day, it can control anything from smart locks to thermostats, electrical outlets, blinds, and so much more.

You can also add smart speakers like Google Home and Amazon Echo to help manage all your Z-Wave devices through voice assistance. With the Z-Wave Alliance, you can build your smart home one gadget at a time, adding more as you see fit. Just remember that you might need a connecting Z-Wave hub to control all the devices, especially for Google.

Z-Wave’s market presence is leaving its mark, with the vast majority of security companies manufacturing a plethora of smart products under their umbrella. Heavyweights like Honeywell Smart Home integrates smoothly with Z-Wave products, as they are part of the certification program. They provide smart devices with easy installation, longer battery life, and the best performance available through Z-Wave protocols.

Renowned home security companies like Vivint also uses Z-Wave protocols on its security system and equipment for its stable, nonstop coverage. Vivint’s control panel works as a Z-Wave hub, where all compatible devices connect. You can adjust the settings from anywhere using the Vivint Sky app.

Most security companies have home automation capabilities embedded into their gear. For example, ADT cameras work great with Z-Wave, delivering a ton of home automation capabilities. The one drawback is that you must sign up for the ADT Pulse plan to get the complete smart home experience.

 

Zigbee

This is another extensively used type of communication in smart home automation. Similar to Z-Wave, Zigbee is a set of high-level, robust protocols that create a unique mesh network. It can help connect IoT devices to each other to deliver a fantastic smart home scene.

 

 

A Zigbee network consists of Zigbee devices called nodes. A node can be used in many applications, from home security monitoring to smart light control. These devices can perform any task defined by the Zigbee standard, operating under the IEEE 802.15.4 MAC layer for data encryption.

But unlike Z-Wave protocols that have a proprietary code, Zigbee is designed with open-source code to use for free. It means that any manufacturer who wishes to develop Zigbee-enabled smart devices can access the code and make them freely.

Zigbee uses either a powerful 2.4 GHz frequency or a lower 915 MHz frequency. The 2.4 GHz works much faster than the 915 MHz, with a 250-kbps speed, but it may interfere with Wi-Fi networks or even your microwave. The 915 MHz offers less interference, but with a data limitation of 40 kbps, making it a little inefficient at this frequency.

 
Zigbee is significantly faster than Z-Wave. Zigbee transmits data at 250 kbps compared to Z-Wave’s rate of 100 kbps.

The Zigbee protocol can handle 65,000+ smart devices on its mesh network. It allows unlimited hops between a device and the hub to extend its range, unlike the four hops Z-Wave permits. For the average-size home, Z-Wave’s four-hop limitation will rarely become an issue.

Zigbee’s free hops between devices open a whole assortment of applications in the workplace. In a larger business setting packed with smart devices, Zigbee’s unlimited capacity can make a huge difference. Keep in mind that even as both technologies can coexist side-by-side, they can’t communicate with each other since they don’t speak the same language.

Even though its mesh network helps extend the range, Zigbee’s low power consumption limits transmission between 30-300 feet. But then again, the more devices are on it, the stronger it becomes. And it uses less power than Z-Wave, prolonging the devices’ battery life.

 

What devices use Zigbee?

The Zigbee Alliance is made up of over 400 companies and 2,500 smart devices. It creates a lot of room for developers and end-users to support Zigbee technology and its applications.

What’s more, Zigbee is skilled at multiple software layers perfect for large smart ecosystems like Abode Home Security. You can use the all-in-one iota gateway to connect with devices like Yale smart locks and Philips Hue lighting using Zigbee protocols.

Zigbee has found a home within the Protect America security systems, extending to its wireless door and window entry sensors. They perform a variety of things, from monitoring access points to keeping your medicine cabinet well-guarded from little hands. With the control panel’s 24-hour backup battery and the devices’ five-year battery life, your system will continue to communicate with its sensors in the event of a power outage.

Many security companies like Scout offer equipment that works great with both Z-Wave and Zigbee, so you can have full smart home support. It gives you the freedom to add a bunch of different smart home devices from third-party companies like Kwikset and First Alert.

 

Bluetooth

You may recognize Bluetooth for the technology your favorite headsets or speakers use. Chances are that you already own a device embedded with this communication protocol. This wireless technology is widely used to connect many gadgets like game consoles to controllers, earbuds to smartphones, and even your car.

Bluetooth mesh network also provides a wireless platform that enables home automation. It helps you connect cameras, smart lights, locks, and more. Most security systems require a control panel or hub to link up all their smart devices using different protocols. If you don’t want to rely on a hub to control your smart home, Bluetooth is the way to go.

The process of associating two Bluetooth devices is called “pairing.” It can vary depending on the components involved. They will transmit their presence to one another, alerting the user to select which device they want to connect. A name or ID will appear on the device, sometimes requiring entering a code to help ensure you are linking the right one.

Typically, Bluetooth connects devices that are closer together within a short amount of distance. It uses the same 2.4 GHz frequency as other wireless technologies, such as baby monitors and Wi-Fi routers.

Bluetooth waves don’t travel far and are continually switching frequencies. It creates a 30-foot radius network called piconet or Personal Area Network (PAN) that works between two and eight devices. The core system engages in a frequency-hopping transmission to reduce interference.

 
The name Bluetooth is taken from a 10th-century Danish king named Harald “Bluetooth” Gormsson, who was said to unite Denmark and Norway in 958.

As technology evolves, Bluetooth speeds are increasing. This short-range network is now a bit faster, delivering up to 24 Mbps of data transmission. Unfortunately, the range is still somewhat limited and can be reduced even further by obstacles like walls and other structures.

Every smart product that wants to use the Bluetooth technology must be tested by the Bluetooth SIG Qualification Program standards. It promotes global product interoperability to reinforce ecosystems among brand-name companies like Microsoft, Samsung, Apple, Phillips Hue, and August locks.

Bluetooth uses less power and it costs less to implement than other protocols. The brand is continuously improving, aiming for better features that include enhanced range and multi vendor interoperability.

New developments will open new opportunities for this wireless technology. Bluetooth has a reputation for draining the battery of mobile devices like smartphones. The company has optimized the v4.0 version. It will allow your phone to be connected all the time to your other Bluetooth devices without a drastic drain on battery power.

 

What devices use Bluetooth?

If you ever heard of smart home protocol, it’s most likely this one. For years, Bluetooth has been at the center of the smart home scene. Whether connecting your TV to soundbars or laptops to printers, nearly all IoT devices have it.

Many of the leading home security companies have Bluetooth installed in their smart devices for easy pairing. Take, for example, Brinks’ IQ Panel 2 that controls the entire home, connecting smart locks, lights, smart thermostats, and more. It allows for a hands-free disarming feature when your Bluetooth-enabled smartphone is near the panel.

Other companies have an array of smart devices using this technology. Link Interactive features an indoor camera with built-in Bluetooth speakers. You control the equipment remotely using the Link Interactive mobile app, which is powered by Alarm.com.

But not all security companies play well with others. Deep Sentinel is known for its lack of home automation capabilities or third-party integrations. Its innovative way to approach home security doesn’t leave any room for others, not even the popular Bluetooth.

Technology Transmission Rate Number of devices Radio Frequency
Z-wave 100 kbps 3,000+ 908.42 MHz
Zigbee 250 kbps 65,000+ 915 MHz or 2.4 GHz
Wi-Fi 6 9.6 Gbps 30 per router 6 GHz
Bluetooth 24 Mbps 8 2.4 GHz

 

IFTTT

Even if you have never heard of it, IFTTT has been around for over a decade now. Or you may have read that a home security system is IFTTT compatible, but don’t actually know what it means. In the most basic definition, it is an online service protocol that helps implement automated actions on your smart devices.

 

 

The acronym IFTTT stands for “If This, Then That,” representing a chain of cause-and-effect actions. Made by the company with the same name, it helps smart devices talk to each other.

It provides smart home users with free programs called “applets,” connecting many devices that may otherwise not be compatible. You can download the free app and use previously created applets by other users. It also allows you to make up to three applets, but you must pay a monthly fee if you want to create more.

Although it is free for individual users, IFTTT charges companies and manufacturers an annual fee to create new services and applets to share with their clients. It helps them attract more customers looking for further integration and automation features for their smart homes. IFTTT services include apps for your smartphone, websites, smart devices, or access to Voice assistants.

You can do almost anything with IFTTT. Applets create chains between compatible platforms, software, and smart home devices. For example, you could make an applet for when you arrive home. It could trigger a chain of events like unlock the front door and turn on the front porch lights, set off by geofencing or a specific time of day.

Every “If This, Then That” scenario is known as a recipe. The “this” part is called a trigger that prompts events, while the “that” is the action itself. Plus, there are channels which are the services that IFTTT supports, like an event on social media platforms, emails, and online apps. Other channels are situation-based, like specific times of day, weather, and use of a smart product.

 
Unlike some of us that say I-F-T-T-T, it is actually pronounced “IFT.”

Each time a “this” trigger goes off, it generates a “that” action. For example, you can cook up a recipe for your video doorbell camera and smart lights. Instructing that “if this camera, then that light” will turn on your lights when motion is detected at your front door. You could create an applet that turns off your smart sprinklers when the weather app says it’s raining. The possibilities are endless!

The IFTTT app is where you can manage all your recipes and see if the tasks are completed. It sends notifications to your smartphone when a recipe runs and lets you know what recipes are working correctly. You can also browse the most popular recipes by a company and add them to your own collection.

On the mobile front, IFTTT is compatible with both iOS and Android. The IFTTT app comes with many specific channels for smartphones like notifications, device, location, phone calls, photos, and SMS.

 
Some smart devices that use Z-Wave or Zigbee protocols will also work with IFTTT. Remember to ask your provider about the integration features before purchasing new equipment.

Using these features, you can create fantastic new recipes like silencing your ringtone when you arrive at the office or crank up your thermostat when you get home.

Thanks to new partnerships being made with powerhouse companies like Belkin and BMW, IFTTT will connect you even further to your smart devices. And with a growing community of IFTTT supporters sharing the latest recipes, it will deliver an entirely home automated experience.

Many security companies are now part of the IFTTT platform. Users can access pre-established recipes by a brand to apply to their security configuration. This way, they can manage their entire alarm system on the palm of their hand, whether it is a DIY or a professionally monitored home security system.

 

What devices use IFTTT?

IFTTT’s platform helps your smart home products integrate with over 650+ brands, delivering powerful automated solutions. It enables you to connect all your different apps and devices like Facebook, Google Home, LIFX, and many more, under one roof.

Several home security and home automation devices use this service to bring your equipment together. It can even help old and new devices connect from a single controller. Most security companies have partnered up with IFTTT to provide customers a convenient way to link their alarm system with a myriad of accessories and configuration options.

For example, you can run IFTTT technology on Ring’s popular video doorbell cameras, giving your system a more comprehensive range of capabilities. Keep a record of your UPS deliveries by marking it in Google calendar, or toggle the lights on and off when people arrive at your doorstep.

Other companies like Xfinity home allow you to create recipes that run automatically with your Comcast connected television. The Ring doorbell can display a message on your TV, alerting you that someone is at your doorstep. It is an excellent option when you are watching TV, out of earshot of the doorbell ring.

With so many security companies offering different protocols and technology, it is hard to keep track of who goes with what. If you want to add a new device into your smart home ecosystem, ask the manufacturer first if it is compatible with your actual setup. You don’t want to end up with a dozen apps on your phone to manage all your security equipment.

 

Bottom Line

Every day, home automation is becoming more and more an essential part of a smart home. When everyday products are embedded with home automation technology, they become “smart.” Whether it is security sensors, locks, or smart lighting, home automation will enable remote control over them from anywhere. It grants the capability to perform the functions you require.

 

Home automation and its applications

For example, you can schedule events to turn on all the lights in your home when your alarm is triggered or lower the blinds at specific times each day. Once you understand the possibilities of home automation, the sky is the limit.

Home automation helps you integrate your favorite gadgets and make them trigger one another. But to keep everything running smoothly, the devices must “speak” a common language called a protocol. Here is where the different communication protocols come into play. They help your devices connect and interact under the same dashboard.

The most popular protocols available are Wi-Fi, Z-wave, Zigbee, Bluetooth, and IFTTT. Not all devices speak all languages, so you must choose which one matches your existing smart home ecosystem.

For most people, Wi-Fi-connected devices could be enough for a smart home setup. More advanced users might switch to a mesh network like Z-Wave or Zigbee for bigger homes or business is a must.

It’s hard to say which one is better since each one has its pros and cons. Wi-Fi has a broader bandwidth, but a limited number of devices can connect to the router before affecting its productivity. In contrast, Bluetooth doesn’t rely on a hub or router to control your smart home but has a shorter range.

On the other hand, Z-Wave consumes less energy and has less interference than its competitor Zigbee. But the latter can handle thousands of smart devices on its mesh network.

And there is IFTTT, that allows smart devices to connect in the same “playground.” You can create recipes and trigger cool features for the smart devices on the network. It could be a little tricky to learn how to use this technology, but home automation becomes a breeze once you get the hang of it.

Security companies now use one, and in some cases, two or more protocols for their equipment to connect. Home automation is engineered to make your life more comfortable and hassle-free, no matter what language your smart devices speak.

These protocols are a vital part of DIY systems, as they provide constant communications between smart devices over different platforms. Many security systems already have these protocols embedded in their equipment for optimal performance.

These communication protocols deliver more secure connectivity between devices, avoiding any lost connection between devices. Hence, better home automation scenes and an enhanced security system that works for you and your lifestyle.

If you are not too tech-savvy, it is best to hire a professional installer. Licensed technicians will take care of the security system installation or any smart device you want to set up. Local providers can even help you figure out many features that come with your alarm system. To learn more about how security systems work, read our beginner’s guide into home security.

Monica Quiros

Article Author

Last Update

October 30, 2020

Home Automation Systems Everything you need to know about Voice Assistants